Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cactus Blooms

There it is, this cactus that's as old as the day I started work, buffeted by all the weather elements as it sits on the exposed balcony. Maybe it likes the sea air or the constant heat from the all day sun. So far this year it has bloomed four times, the first bloom of the year was on Chinese New Year. A good portent in my gap year, I hope. The bloom starts opening at 10pm as the day gets cooler. By 2am. it will be at its optimum. When I get to photograph it just after dawn when the sun is starting to peek, it's just starting to close up and by 8.30am, it will have be half-closed. By mid-morning, it's closed up again, its glory done.

But I do have a series of photographs. I normally use Hipstamatic, Instagram or the trusty Lumix. No big SLR for me. Maybe I will when I get one and move the images off it's grass-roots rough as guts App on the iPhone.

The Leopard Sang in Sarawak

My all time favourite Sarawak Tourism posters. Inspired! Have kept these posters in pristine condition. They are graffically distressed around the edges.
Posting them on my blog as I'm about to re-acqaint myself with this 'Hidden Paradise of Borneo'. Will be there next week for a school reunion.
Sarawak holds so much attraction and charm. Come visit!

In Praise of Winter Melon Soup

Owner Amy at Cinta Malaysian has been making this Tung Kwa (winter melon) soup for staff to savour when service ends. She has shared this soup and is one of my favourites.

Build up a chicken stock base and supplement with pork spare ribs or other knuckle pork cuts. Add tung kwa (winter melon) cubes. For health attributes, add goji berries and dried Chinese black or red dates. You can use rice noodles (kway tiaw) or vermicelli (bee hoon). Before serving, add greens like choy sim.

Dried black or red dates are widely used in Chinese health promoting soups. It is a 'warm' (yang energy) herb that helps benefits the spleen and stomach, reinforces energy, nourish the blood, soothes the nerves and neutralizes toxic side effects of some medicine. My circle of Aunties have claimed Goji berries have antioxidants which benefits mental well-being, and calmness, quality of sleep, and feelings of good health. They tell me around the mahjong table that goji berries also have compounds rich in vitamin A that may have anti-aging benefits. Woohoo!

Garden of Eden

So much has been said of Ortolana that it will be superfluous for me to match such eloquence. Suffice to say it's one of Auckland's shining stars in the dining scene. Top Ten on Metro's list of Best Restaurants of the Year 2013, runner-up Best Casual Bistro, runner-up Best new Restaurant. Scott Brown and Jackie Grant of Hip Group have done it again, with head chef Jo Pearson and serving staff who how how to keep everyone happy and looked after. Round up the evening with chocolates, gelato or other sweet temptations from Milse.

Why let the photos taken on our many visits to Ortolana languish in a digital photo folder? Subscribing to their Garden to Table philosophy, a lot of the the greens, micro-greens, herbs and vegetables come from the farm out in Kumeu.
A veritable Garden of Eden.

31 Tyler Street

Monday, April 29, 2013

Mix Moon

Been looking forward to sampling the dishes at Mix Moon, the newest restaurant on Totara Avenue, New Lynn. We went to have a goodbye meal before my departure for Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur. The cuisine at Mix Moon is South East Asian Fusion. Well, with such a pedigree, it should be a sure-fire recipe for success. But is it?

Mix Moon is tastefully fitted out, not a lantern or embroidered fan in sight, neither are the walls dripping in red. So they didn't expect that number of punters on a Monday night, but there were 3 serving staff. The wait for attention was nearly half an hour. It doesn't make us very receptive to what the menu promises. After all we had all that time to study it. They will have to work extra hard to regain our goodwill. Well, no matter how much resources you throw into the surrounds, all that comes to naught when faced with staff who are not interested in their diners.

So there are dishes from Malaysia like nasi lemak, curry laksa, mee goreng, beef rendang; paad thai, red and green curries and salads like papaya pok pok.from Thailand. That sounded really enticing but their dressings all come with fish sauce, of cousre and no amount of cajoling are they prepared to use anything else on the pok pok. Fair enough, recipe integrity and all that. We decided to go completely vegetarian; Mango Tofu, stir fried with vegetables in sweet mango chutney and Mamak Mee Goreng, Indian Muslim style stirfried egg noodle with tofu, potato, egg and vegetables. Both dishes were extraordinary good, with great distinctive flavours. But as it's fusion, they lacked the spark of the dishes they were supposed to replicate. Fusion for the locals, served Western style.

Gleaned from the menu: the intriguing Butterfly Nest – vegetarian rolls of taro, mushroom, leeks and vermicelli, wrapped in net rice paper. Something those judges on MasterChef would inflict on the hapless contestants. Maybe Crying Tiger would be more apt, marinated grilled Thai style sirlion steak accompanied with salad in Nam Jeon Sauce. Seafood choices: Mango Prawns, Butter Prawns, deep fried whole Snapper prepared in a choice of sambal, mango, guila assam or nam jeou sauce. And Vietnamese Bun Ga and Pho Bo. Spoilt for choice! But worth the wait?

Owner and Chef Vu says, 'Come in and be transported...'  Sounds good, but it's more like a very slow boat or being stuck in traffic.

Mix Moon
29 Totara Avenue
New Lynn
ph 09-8273313

Friday, April 26, 2013

Serving Izakaya

Sat at the food bar around the yakitori grill and teppanyaki hotplates, watching Masterchef Hideharu Shimura brought back memories of the film Jiro Dreams Of Sushi on Sushi Master Jiro Ono. Co-owner Sarasa Shimura has brought out her father from Tokyo where he had been been Head Chef at Michelin Star Tokyo restaurants. Master Shimura is a joy to watch, like a venerable master with years of experience in creating food he loves passionately. There's no Gordon Ramsay histrionics, all is calm and under control.

Co-owners Sarasa Shimura and Mark Smith used to be at Soto in St Mary's Bay. Tokyo Club is an opportunity to bring Yokocho style dining to Auckland. It's laneway dining, reminiscent of the Izakaya and food stalls serving gastronomic delights in the alleys between main streets. Ponsonby Central fitted their vision, there is a laneway at the back where the food outlets are. This is urban dining, Tokyo-style.

Most of the food can be shared. The Agemono comprise lightly fried share-style dishes: Chicken Karaage, Agadasdi Tofu, Cured Bacon & Cream Cheese Spring Rolls. There is Okonomiyaki but it only for lunch. My favourite is the Duck Dumpling Shumai, served with shoyu and Japanese mustard, best eaten hot as soon as it arrives. The warm Chawan-mushi makes an appearance in their well-considered menu. There is a good sake selection, even one called  Sarasa, after the co-owner, brewed by sake masters at the Kawatsuru Sake Brewery on Shikoku Island.

You can round up your meal with a choice of 2 ice creams. My choice was the Yuzu Citrus Ice Cream. Or you can have the Green Tea Ice Cream.

Tokyo Club
Ponsonby Central
4 Brown Street
+64 9-3768016

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In praise of Congee

The ultimate comfort food! It's what your parents serve you when you feel poorly and a bowl of congee is all you crave for. There's always congee bubbling away for breakfast. All it needs is a couple of condiments that's usually salty and pickled and you're all set for the day, until lunch at least!

When we feel homesick for home food, we always think of congee. It's very easy to prepare and you can just have a few of your favourite condiments. No point ordering congee from any Chinese food premises here. The rice porridge is always overcooked until it becomes a starchy sludge. You can order a chicken, pork or fish ball or duck congee. But whatever they top it with, you alway feel you are having a paste that they put up posters with.

Last week, Auntie Jenny had a congee dinner on a rapidly cooling autumn night. She cooked the rice in extra water and added a ham hock to add substance to the porridge. To boost the taste of the porridge, you can add dried scallops (干贝 kung yee chee). Fish heads have always been used in seafood porridge as a natural sweetener and flavour boost. Or you can use chicken stock. Add a few slices of fresh ginger when you cook the porridge. Most of the condiments can be prepared beforehand or from your pickled jars.

  • deep fried dried anchovies/ikan billis. If you don't wish to upset your minimalist kitchen, Angie at Sri Pinang can deep fry them for you.
  • dried salted fish. Stir fry or grill to maximise flavour.
  • pickled radish
  • Tianjin preserved vegetable (tang chye)
  • Preserved vegetable hearts (kiam chye sim). Squeeze lime juice and sprinkle sliced chilli. In SE Asia, we use calamansi.
  • preserved vegetable (kiam chye). Slice it into small strips and boost the salty flavour with lime juice and fresh cut chilli.
  • pickled leek (kew tau)
  • sliced cucumber, pickled in mirin or vinegar, pinch of salt and sugar and sliced chilli
  • eggs many ways. Omelette, sliced into thin strips. Or just break an egg on top of each (hot) congee serving.
  • hundred year old-eggs (phee tan).
  • salted eggs. Or boiled eggs, with just soft york. Cut into quarters and drizzle with light soy, and white pepper.
  • Fermented beancurd sesame oil (tau chio). Also referred to as Chinese cheese! An acquired taste, perfect for congee. Squeeze lime juice over the tauchio and add sliced chilli.
  • small pork meat balls, with tang chye chopped in). Cook with porridge.
  • Fish balls. Keep them small (ditto pork meat balls). No cricket-sized meat or fish balls, thank you.
  • Fish cake, thinly sliced.
  • Shredded poached chicken strips. Help yourself to this meat option as it shouldn't be cooked with the porridge.
  • Cantonese Chinese have sliced beef with scrambled egg congee. The egg is broken over the hot congee.
  • Rainbow Taro Congee: with taro or kumara, carrot, water chestnuts, all diced + green peas (no joke! After all, it's Rainbow Taro Congee).
  • Frog legs congee (well, after all Chinese eat everything with legs or wings, except aeroplanes)
  • Flavoured ginger and onion oil
  • Stir -fried vegetables. Stir fry in garlic bitter gourd or kamo kamo. Also shitake mushroom. Anotther Auntie recently stir-fried snake beans (or green beans) with dried black Chinese olives (oh cho). Avoid leafy greens.
  • bonus add: yew char kway or Chinese beignet. Mostly a morning deep fried beignet in Asia. The ones you find here are not freshly fried. They become very oily and the longer they stay on the shelf, the more chewy they become until you feel you are chewing on a rubber band. The perfect yew char kway is crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside. The two strips of dough should be stuck together, cooked in hot oil. Many oils are over-utilised, they impart a rancid flavour to the beignet. If the oil is not hot enough, the yew char kway will be oily when it taken out of the deep-fryer. Scissor-cut the beignet and either top the porridge or leave in bowl for self-assembly.
  • sesame oil 
  • light soya sauce
         CONGEE ASSEMBLY (Food in a Minute, not)
  • Try a few condiments first, not more that four at a time. Otherwise your palate will become sodium confused.
  • garnish with deep-fried shallots
  • if flavoured ginger and onion oil is not prepared, a couple of seame oil is an alternative.
  • sprinkle with roasted or deep fried peanuts, preferably with skin on.
  • sprinkle with finely sliced spring onions to complete the garnish.
  • a few drops of light soya sauce on non-salty items like meat balls, fish balls, egg.
  • white pepper is a must for congee. Sprinkle last. 
* I know Quick Smart is trade marked. Pointless banning me from using it as nobody reads my food blog.

My First Blog

Been meaning to set up a food blog ever since I left Cuisine magazine and now the opportunity has presented itself. Godson Jett ( has spurred me to set up this blogsite. Have been eating out lots this week. Last night the Country Women's Institute (of which I'm honarary member) convened at Ortolana on Britomart. Four of us ordered the Market Fish (John Dory) with Couscous and Garden Harvest. Our servings were not worthy of mains, they were entree-sized and all the sides were miniscule. On seeing the size of the same dish being served to other diners later in the evening, there was a current of discontent in our group. I brought this to the attention of the maitre'd who dealt to it with aplomb. This is not the first time that we have encountered this at Ortolana. The Beetroot, Cumin, Feta, Hazelnuts, Lasagnotte dish shrank to half the size on the second visit.

Had to entertain Jett for the day as it's school holidays. I took him to Al Brown's Big Ugly at City Depot. Angelo showed us how the bagels were made. Fascinating! Al Brown took Angelo to Montreal to learn how these bagels should be made. They are certainly not as doughy and chewy as the New York ones. As it was rainy we took our bagels and had them with a perfectly brewed cuppa at T2 across the road. First time I had seen a 3-timer, one minute, 3 minutes and 5 minutes. Perfectly brewed tea as per the brewing time specified.

Next destination was St Heliers Bay Cafe & Bistro. The service is still as sharp 
as ever though what I had (Free Range Poached Chicken Salad, Pancetta, Green Beans, Anchovy & Parmesan) failed to impress. So we repaired to watch The Croods with a theatre full of young ones and adult minders. We sat on the front row. Thank God it wasn't a 3D session! It will have been too much of a battering for us and all the very young ones. Enjoyed the film, pretended I was a young one too!

We had our usual chicken wantan with kway tiaw soup at Sri Pinang to round the day off. Hanging out with the young makes you feel young!